To many Christians, cross-pollinating “ministry” and “commercialism” is not a problem. After all, we assume “every man is a minister.” How many of us have said at some time or another, "Well that’s my job, but my ministry is … ” as if a job is just filler time that could be spent better, while a ministry is the real deal?
What has happened is that we have taken something biblical—ministry—and run with it for so long that we’ve forgotten what it really means. For example, you might have a puppet ministry, and I might have a hip-hop ministry. Your cousin in California has a surf ministry, and you know a guy at church who has a wacky photo ministry. Of course we can’t forget the sports ministry complete with softball, skateboarding, aerobics and cheerleading. And then there’s the guy on the Internet with the comical cartoon ministry or the guy who, for a small fee, will bring his Crazy Clown Scripture Posse to your next big children’s program.
Many of these activities may be legitimate uses of our time, but the question arises whether they are actually functions of a biblical definition of ministry. Ministry is something that takes place in God’s sphere of redemption. Ministry is largely made up of God’s work in Word and Sacrament—His means of grace. It is ministry to rightly divide the Word of Truth. It is ministry to administer Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are all things particular to the work of redemption, and carried out by His ministers. Put simply, it is ministry when the church actively wields the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Many things called ministry are, in fact, not. Yet, they are still valuable apart from the big "m" label. It’s not a ministry to bang some drums and scream in a microphone. That’s what we’d do well to call a vocation (sometimes). It’s certainly not a ministry to help your next-door neighbor fix his car. That would be called loving your neighbor (a divine command). It may not even necessarily be a ministry when you write essays for a magazine such as RELEVANT (that’s something else altogether).
While loving your neighbor and working hard in your vocation may not necessitate a "ministry" by biblical definition, it still has great significance. James tells us that holy living and loving our neighbors—including widows and orphans—is "pure and faultless religion" (James 1:27). Paul agrees when he says to offer all of life up to God—not just the "ministry" stuff—and goes so far as to call it our "spiritual act of worship" (Romans 12:1).
To the writers of the Scriptures, the ordinary things can glorify God. "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do," Paul urges believers, "do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). The concept of God being glorified even in the ordinary things—like eating and drinking—is liberating to those of us reared to think that maybe God isn’t glorified at work, unless, of course, a bunch of folks "get saved." It frees us to just be excellent at the things we do, working in our occupation as if we were working directly for God (Colossians 3:23-25).
Nearly 20 years ago, B.J. Thomas, producer of such notable artists as Roy Orbison and Los Lobos, echoed the Apostle Paul when he told Rolling Stone, "A bricklayer’s job is to build a good wall that will stand against the rain and wind. Writing Jesus on it isn’t going to help it withstand the storms." The wall doesn’t need justified by being "Christianized."
Popular culture’s greatest icon, Bono of U2, commented in an interview on Beliefnet.com, "I love hymns and gospel music, but the idea of turning your music into a tool for evangelism is missing the point." Writing Jesus on songs isn’t going to make the music withstand storms.
The irony of the Christian music market is that calling it "ministry" is a good move for business. If a Christian artist plays the ministry card right, the business will likely go over better—with Christians. But as we label it "ministry" and deal with subjects in our art that only Christians can relate to, we alienate the very people we claim we desire to reach. Steve Turner, British poet and rock critic, writes in his book Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), "The casual nonbelieving browser is effectively excluded because there is no overlap of experience."
But when we create our art from that "overlap of experience," we can bring a biblical worldview to the table of which the nonbelieving world knows little. Groups such as the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy have brought issues such as justice, racism, media bias, environmentalism and alcohol abuse to the public square—and have persuaded many listeners to adopt their opinions (opinions that, however right or wrong, do not come from a solidly biblical worldview). While others are raising the big questions, most of us are "hiding under a bushel" with the answers—or at least hiding with a better way to frame the questions. Until we enter the discussion in an informed manner, which we largely have not, no one will see the striking difference between God’s truth and man’s mere opinion.
Ministry, properly speaking, is a function of the church. But that does not lessen the value of a non-ministerial vocation. We should see the significance in both the common and the holy. Each is important, and each can be done to the glory of God. Even things like rocking out can glorify God without once using the "m" word to justify it.
Martin Luther captured the essence of this deeply biblical way of thinking when he advised a shoemaker to make a good shoe, and then to sell it at a fair price. In this, said Luther, God is glorified. Adopting this perspective, the world just may see, by God’s grace, that Christ is, in fact, relevant.[Jamey Bennett, 22, is one half of hip-hop group Royal Ruckus on Flicker Records.]
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